In this interview series, we are talking to ecommerce business leaders who can share their strategies for creating a very successful ecommerce website. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chaitanya Patel.
Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
I was born and raised in India. My family and I moved to the U.S. when I was 15. I grew up in a very traditional family. Six of us lived in the house: my parents, my grandparents, my older brother, and me.
Life was pretty simple: Go to school, come home, do some studying, watch some TV, go to sleep, and repeat. It was not until we moved to the U.S. in 2006 that my family was able to somewhat get out of the financial hole we were in. I came to the States as a sophomore in high school. This was a very interesting time for me because I had to adapt to a new lifestyle, make new friends, and try my best to fit in. For the most part, I enjoyed it. My plan was to join the Marines after high school but things didn’t go as planned. I ended up at a county college, from which I eventually dropped out.
In my mid-20s, I bought into a brick-and-mortar business, which also didn’t go as planned. I had to shut it down after nine months and file for personal bankruptcy. I guess I had the freedom to fail. But the lessons I learned from it are priceless. No college or institute could’ve taught me any of it. That experience helped me become more mature in my personal and professional lives, and I continue to apply those principles to my everyday life. Maybe not all of them, but I’m working on it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lessons or takeaways did you learn from that?
Would you believe me if I told you that I ordered about 20 samples from a manufacturer without vetting them? That’s exactly what happened. After I had my design created, I started looking for apparel manufacturers online and came across a merchant that had a really fancy-looking portfolio. Without doing any further due diligence, I moved forward with placing an order for samples in different sizes, fabric blends, and colors. To me, it sounded like they were doing everything I asked.
Finally, the samples arrived. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I mean, not only were the sizes off, but the sewing was so poor that I actually ripped a shirt while taking the tags off. There I was, holding a box full of shirts and not knowing what to do with it. It’s been more than a year but I still laugh about it. I know I could’ve done better, but it was the excitement of getting it done that led me to do it.
It was a lesson learned. Anyone reading this, if you’re starting out, please make sure to do your due diligence before doing business with anyone. Have them send samples of the work they have done. If you’re able, find out which other brands or businesses they have worked with and get their feedback on the product they have delivered. Soon after that, I became very critical when looking for a merchant to work with. It took me six months to find a trustworthy company to work with, but my money was well spent.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
Honestly, a lot of people have inspired me, but my grandpa will always be at the top of the list. When I was growing up, we struggled a lot financially. This man should’ve been enjoying his 60s, but he took on the responsibility of supporting my family. He gave everything he ever owned to make sure we had food on our table. It’s the mindset he had at the time; nothing fazed him. His main concern was taking care of his family. If I became half as good as he was, I would like to think I led a good life.
So, while I was going through my struggles in business, I knew that it was temporary and things would get better. I didn’t have the mindset to handle those things, but over time, they took me to a much better place because I didn’t lose hope, just like my grandpa never did.
What does your ecommerce company do? What was the “aha moment” that led to the idea for your current ecommerce business?
It wasn’t until I knew what I wanted to do with my brand and the message I was trying to spread. I thought that coming up with the designs and colors I chose was cool, but when I saw the value and the impact it can have on people, I knew I had to go through with it. I have the story on my website.
What was your original vision for your company? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
I was more focused on the color aspect of my brand: Make it colorful but modern for those who like to match their outfits with sneakers and accessories. I thought that this, in and of itself, would make a great selling point because there’s a huge market for it. However, I knew it had to be more than that, so I ended up with the approach that I did.
There are more than 12 million ecommerce businesses out there. What do you think makes your company stand out? What are you most proud of?
I think, for any ecommerce brand, it comes down to the value aspect and the community they are trying to help. Being unique definitely helps you stand out. The approach I’m taking—to help elevate confidence through style, especially with a streetwear brand—is pretty cool. I’m glad I chose that route. It’s a tough journey, but there’s no fun in easy stuff.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things you need to know to build a highly successful ecommerce website?
1. Before we even get to the website, pick a name that is unique and easy to remember. Also, choose a simple logo so that people will remember your brand.
2. A clean, crisp, and modern website should be your choice. I’ve heard many say, “Just get started and don’t focus too much on the aesthetics of the website,” but I couldn’t disagree more. You could do that if you’re in it to make a quick buck, but if you’re trying to build a legitimate brand, you need a more appealing corporate style.
3. SPEEEED. This ain’t a drive-thru or a fast food place. We all hate waiting for things. The same goes for your website. People don’t like waiting, and they won’t wait for your website to load if it takes more than a second or two. As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. Google actually ranks your website depending on the speed.
4. Talking about speed, the main thing that kills it is all the applications you might have running on your websites. But these applications are good to have to collect customer information before they leave your website without making a purchase. Use pop-ups to collect email/phone numbers so that you can market directly to them. Upselling at the checkout, current offers you have in place, timers to create urgency, reviews to create social proof, etc. The options are limitless, but start with the basics and then build on that while staying mindful of the speed
5. The brand mission and purpose. It might not sound like a big deal, but people buy more from people; you have to make yourself relatable to them by sharing your story. Show empathy toward them. That will build the most loyal customer base, and they will come back to you for more.
If there were one part of the ecommerce website development process you would have spent 50% more time on, what would it be and why?
Make the process—from selecting a product to checking out—as flawless as possible. Make it less distracting. Upselling during checkout is fine, but the moment they land on your website, make sure they know exactly where to go and how to buy your product. Having to click too much is boring and frustrating.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging ecommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Create a landing page to collect leads and run offers. You can use Phonesites or GoHighLevel. It’s easy to use, even for first-timers. You can use it to collect leads for those to whom you can market directly. You collect leads by giving them a limited-time offer.
Once you have collected those leads, you can use an email service such as Klaviyo (which I would use) to communicate with them. Also, you can automate the whole process to make sure the emails are going out on time.
If you’re collecting phone numbers, which I highly recommend doing, you can use an SMS app such as Postscripts to send marketing emails and special offers to your SMS list. Postscript can easily integrate with Klaviyo, so all your data is synced in automation. This lets you send out SMS/MMS on time.
These are the tools I use because of how user-friendly they are, but I’m sure there are plenty more out there that you might find more suitable. Bottom line: Use tools/apps that integrate with each other, so it’s easier to automate the process.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start an ecommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
From a founder’s standpoint, with a startup, I think a lot of ecommerce businesses don’t focus much on the customer experience.
I get that you don’t have a physical location where you can interact with your customers; that’s why you have to leverage social media to engage with them. Ask questions, create polls, go live. Do whatever it takes to hear them out. Send a follow-up email for feedback after they make a purchase. Update them on all the new things you are working on. Ask them what you can do better to provide a great experience. Ask for product reviews. Just because they came to you once doesn't mean they will keep coming if they don’t ever hear from you.
Also, consider the user experience for your website. Remember, attention spans are very low, so a slow/laggy website won’t keep them around for long. Even if you have the best product, someone with a product half as good as yours will do better if they provide a great customer experience.
In your experience, which aspect of running an ecommerce brand tends to be most underestimated?
The fulfillment aspect of the business is underestimated. When it’s a small startup, it’s easy to do from home, but when brands “blow up,” companies often struggle to get out orders on time; they don’t have proper systems in place.
Third-party fulfillment companies are good as a temporary solution, but when you’re trying to build a large brand, at some point, you will need the infrastructure for fulfillment. You need to have a system in place from the moment you receive an order until it’s shipped out. You need a defined timeline for everything.
Obviously, you can’t control what happens on the courier side; you can only hope that all goes well with them.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
I think a streetwear brand that helps elevate confidence is itself a movement, especially for the introverted community, to help them break through mental barriers. My focus, moving forward, is to help others become better versions of themselves. I want them to know that they’re not the only ones who feel the way they do and that things will get better. If someone like me can do it, I know they can, too.
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